04/03/12 8:10 PM ET
Weiland earns spot with confidence, command
By Gene Duffey / Special to MLB.com
Johnson's patient aggressiveness paying off
HOUSTON -- Will the real Chris Johnson please stand up?Is the Astros' third baseman the same guy who hit .308 with 11 homers and 52 RBIs in 94 games as a rookie in 2010? Or is he the guy who stumbled through last season with a .251 average with only seven homers and 42 RBIs in 107 games and earned himself a demotion. After hitting .368 with six doubles, five homers and 11 RBIs during Spring Training, Johnson appears to be back to his 2010 level. "A lot of things happened last year," he said. "I didn't quite make the adjustments as early as I should have. I may have gotten a little cocky, and thought I was just going to come in last year and do it again. That's one thing I learned. You never want to get comfortable here. You have to keep working every single day." Johnson worked in the offseason to get stronger and change his approach at the plate. This spring he showed more patience. "I'm trying to get my pitch," he said. "I still want to be aggressive, but I want to be really aggressive on the pitch I want to hit." New Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow promised that the new Chris Johnson will more closely resemble the old one than the 2011 edition. "The Chris Johnson we saw two years ago that got everybody excited, I think that's the guy we're going to see [this year]," Luhnow said. "Mentally, he's ready to be our everyday third baseman." The Astros gave Johnson some confidence when they sent down Brett Wallace, last year's first baseman who was moved to third in the spring, to Triple-A Oklahoma City. "It's really tough to see when guys get sent down, especially with Brett," Johnson said. "We went through a lot last year together. Brett's a really good player and he's going to be back up here. It's really nice for [the Astros] to say, 'You're our everyday third baseman." It's definitely a vote of confidence. They told me I'm starting on Friday. That's what I'm taking it as. From then on, I'm going to earn my playing time." Johnson, 27, said he isn't the same person he was in 2010. "I'm a lot smarter baseball player," he said. "Things last year really helped me out. It let me see that you can't take anything for granted. You go through those ups and downs. It helped me learn from that kind of stuff. If you don't start out well, you have to keep going." Cardinals first baseman Lance Berkman, the former Astro, gave Johnson some sage advice. "He told me last year. 'Don't get caught up in trying to prove people wrong,'" Johnson said. Now Johnson knows that Berkman was right.
Schafer testing left hand, wants to play opener
HOUSTON -- Center fielder Jordan Schafer returned to the Astros' starting lineup for Tuesday night's exhibition game against the Chicago White Sox at Minute Maid Park.Schafer had been sidelined for two weeks after injuring his left hand making a diving catch in the outfield. There was discussion whether he would have to begin the season on the disabled list. "I'm going to take BP, see how it feels," Schafer said before Tuesday's game. "If I feel all right, I'll get in there and get some at-bats before [Friday's season opener]. I can't do any more damage to it. "I definitely didn't want to start on the DL. I felt comfortable this spring. I feel I had some good at-bats. I definitely want to build on that. I can't force it if I'm not feeling good again and I have to change my swing because it's not ready yet. Then I'll have to take a couple more days." Schafer said he wouldn't be completely healed by Opening Day. "I'm not close to 100 percent," he said. "Am I good enough to go out there and play? I think so. That's what today's all about. Hopefully, it will be good enough that I can play and be productive. Hopefully over the next couple of weeks, it will get back to 100 percent again." Schafer impressed Houston manager Brad Mills in Spring Training. "Jordan Schafer looked early in the spring like a guy who was on a mission," Mills said. "[Monday] night, Schafer was able to hit a little bit off some live pitching. He seems to feel good today. There's no reason to think he won't [be able to start Friday]. We've given him every opportunity to get better and given him so many tests to make sure he won't go backward." General manager Jeff Luhnow compared Schafer to Boston center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. The health of shortstop Jed Lowrie, who sprained his thumb last Wednesday, was still in doubt. "I haven't talked with Jed today," Mills said. "I'm a little more skeptical with him."
Gene Duffey is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.